Mileage Runs have defined true frequent flyers for over 20 years. If you have never heard the term, it involves taking a flight or series of flights for the sole purpose of gaining miles in order to get either increased status or a high number of redeemable miles due to some promotion. I still remember the first time I heard about this when I was stationed at Ft. Ord. United offered triple RDM for the whole year if you took three flights during the slow first quarter of the year. United actually had a flight that took off from SFO and landed in OAK (Oakland) to pick up more passengers before then taking off internationally. Savvy frequent flyers (not a lot back then) took the flight only from SFO to OAK in order for it to count towards the promotion and then enjoyed triple miles for the whole year.
My wife and I are among many FF that find it worth spending the money to “fly nowhere” although we often turn it into a weekend vacation. Two of the major airlines are actually taking steps to end this practice. Delta started a requirement for this year to also require a minimal spending amount just as they had also required a minimal EQM amount for each status level. United followed and they both started that practice this year. They did leave a major out from the spending requirement. Spending $25,000 on Delta’s CC negated the spending requirement for any level. United almost did the same, except the did not exempt their highest level, 1K. I was frankly OK with this requirement as business flights often were above the minimum spend so the cheaper Mileage Run tickets kind of balanced that out. Making it harder was the fact that they only counted the actual fare dollars and not the taxes or fees. I did a pretty through analysis of how this affected flyers who used GSA fares here.
Well, maybe they realized that this requirement was not enough, so they came up with a new (and worse) one that really takes away from mileage running. Both of the airlines will now base the number of miles you earn on a multiple of the dollars spent on the ticket. The multiple for both airlines is exactly the same, anywhere from 5x to 11x the dollars spent. See the previous analysis I did of those changes in earnings in my previous post. To summarize that analysis, the short haul travelers will get many more miles than previously, but the long haul would earn much, much less. Those used to be the flights that you could really score on, sometimes enough miles for a free domestic flight. When my wife and I took our mileage run to SIN (Singapore), I alone earned over 40,000 RDM!
Note that nothing in this new plan changes how you earn EQM. So then why wouldn’t you still Mileage Run to get better status. The answer is that you should, but you are going to end up with less benefit. Let’s take a real example. Last year, I was about 20,000 miles short of renewing my 1K status on United. I had plotted out my trips for the whole year and realized I would fall short by about August. I pondered whether it was worth spending the money and time, especially the time, to reach this goal. Making 1K would give me 4 domestic upgrades (RPU) and 6 international upgrades (GPU) in additional to a much greater chance of a free upgrade domestically and ten free drink coupons. Staying at Platinum would only get me two RPUs. Sounds like it would be worth something, right? So I found a good fare from IAD to SIN for just over $1,000 RT. Read about it on this post from last year. I earned the required 20,000 EQM, but also earned 40,000 RDM. 40,000 RDM, if you value miles at $0.02/mile, is equal to $800. So my real cost for this mileage run was only $200. Pretty smart and got a good vacation out of it too. If I did the same run under the new rules, I would have only netted $1,000 x 11 = 11,000 RDM or $220 equivalent.
Here is another illustration of the point. TheFlightDeal.com is an awesome subscription service if you are looking for mileage runs (or cheap vacations) and they are illustrating the difference of mileage earning now vice later under this new scheme.
So am I saying that you should never do a mileage run? No, of course not. I will be about 4,000 EQM short of making Alaska MVP Gold this year. It makes a lot of sense for me to make a mileage run for that amount of miles in order to keep the awesome benefits of the Mileage Plan program especially having every fare fully refundable. But now the payback is not going to be nearly as great on DL or UA. DL starts their new plan on 1 Jan. so you’re pretty much out of luck there, but UA does not start their plan until 1 Mar. meaning there are two months where you can score that last great deal. The first quarter is typically the time for lucrative runs anyway, so take a look at some of our past posts on finding a mileage run. If you are a Delta die-hard, they are one of the few airlines that will give you high status simply through CC spend. My friend Greg from The Frequent Miler talks about doing that in a recent post. Not too many airlines allow this, so don’t look for a similar plan from other airlines.
And if you are an American or Alaskan fan, you are good to go…for now. I remember what happened with cutting meals on planes and baggage fees. What starts on one airline eventually spreads.